Earl’s Court is home this week to The Great British Beer Festival, making it the one time in the year that it’s actually acceptable to drink round there. Beer festivals are enormous fun, and if you play it right you can get nicely sozzed while still keeping hold of the niceties of social behaviour. Here are the tips that I and my partners in ale, the Beeranauts, have come up with over the years.
1) Food. As important as a beer glass. There’s a mass of food stalls in the central area, and you can even get a salad if you’re some kind of girly wuss. I would recommend a decent cooked breakfast before you even start. There are plenty of cafes and pubs that open early to serve food on the Earl’s Court Road. Don’t enter the Exhibition Hall without a well and truly lined stomach.
2) Get your bearings. The programme is vital to planning out your day. It tells you plenty about all the beer on offer, the itinerary of bands on the music stage, and where you can find the award-winners. If you’re a bit of a ticker like me, this is essential. Also, if you’re a civilised type, now’s the time to find a table and set camp for the day. We tend not to, which leads to tired legs after a few hours. Some people brought fold-out picnic chairs this year, which seems like a smart idea.
3) Freebies. Keep your eyes open. The Bombardier stand was giving away free t-shirts, and beer mats and other goodies are always up for grabs. Plenty of good merchandising at curiously affordable prices here as well. Don’t just be thinking all your money for the day is going on beer.
4) The half-in-a-pint-glass trick. This has served us well. The first thing you do once you’re in the hall is to buy a glass, £3 deposit, a nice souvenir for the day. It comes in pint, half and third sizes. The Beeranauts always buy pint glasses, and order halves. This way, you can fit in more brews through the day. More importantly, the volunteers behind the pumps always err on the generous side on servings. You always get a bit more than a half, which can add up to almost a full pint over the course of a day.
5) Keep an eye on your glass. If you don’t, some thieving tyke will have it away. That means you have to spend out another £3 if you want to keep going. This happened to me at the end of the day, which I would like to think is the action of some higher power telling me that I needed to stop drinking, and that I didn’t need another commerative pint glass. Shame though. I was enjoying that cider.
6) People-watch. All human life is here, and it’s all getting nicely tweaked on the finest ales known to man. With a camera, or even a notebook and pen, the artist has character material to last for years. The Beeranaut’s personal favourite was the guy in the greasy leather stetson, body warmer and sand-camo combat strides, with no shirt and a wild spill of white hair. King Of The Show. Also, don’t assume this is a man-only thing. Plenty of girls at the show, and they seemed to be on the dark ales too.
7) Move outside your comfort zone. You will never get another opportunity to try different and interesting beers from all over the globe, so try a glass of something you would’t normally. Lager drinkers, try a stout. Bitter boys, get a perry down you. If you think all American beer is watery froth, there’s a stall full of craft brewers ready to prove you wrong with some of the strongest ales of the show. My tastes have changed radically over the past year or so, and that’s down to trying and enjoying new stuff at beerfests in Battersea, Reading and Earl’s Court.
8. Do the day shift. The halls get intolerably crowded in the evenings, so if you can, do a day shift and leave early. I tend to find six hours does it for me anyway, so we’re normally done and heading home by 6ish. Can’t say that I’m really good for anything when I get back, but at least I’m normally in one piece, and happy after a fun, woozy day out.
My recommendations? Well, the Beeranauts did a tour of each other’s home counties, which led to some interesting choices. The treat for us was probably Wood’s Shropshire Lass, which was recommended as a good alternative to the 2010 Champion Ale, Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale. But I also loved Tunnel’s Late OTT from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and the dark and complex Felstar Crix Forest from the heart of Essex. I don’t think we had a duff beer all day.
I tweeted everything I drank, so you can see the full list by checking out the hashtag #gbbfun.